Airplane documentary flies high on Imax

What: Living in the Age of Airplanes

Where: Imax Victoria

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When: Opens Friday

Rating: Three stars (out of five)

If there’s one thing the film Living in the Age of Airplanes does splendidly, it’s ensure that the audience will stop taking air travel for granted.

“In a sense, we’re walking distance to almost everywhere,” says actor Harrison Ford, who narrates Brian J. Terwilliger’s Imax documentary about the profound impact the airplane has had on our lives.

While these words from the mouth of a Hollywood superstar and passionate aviator might seem overly dramatic, this film effectively illustrates how much they ring true.

Although it takes a while for the 47-minute documentary to take off, there are rewards to savour once it gets past the historical context and reaches its cruising altitude.

Opening with a haunting image of flying machines that have seen better days grounded in an airplane graveyard in California’s Mojave Desert, the film gradually explores how far air travel has come.

Energized by the late James Horner’s dramatic musical score, it details aviation’s development through an abundance of black-and-white archival footage. Flashbacks to its origins recall the invention of the steam engine and locomotives and vintage automobiles rolling off assembly lines before we’re catapulted into the jet age, with thousands of flights taking off and landing worldwide.

As fascinating as it is to revisit images of Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe smiling from airplanes of yesteryear, and to learn that walking was mankind’s sole form of transportation for 200,000 years, it isn’t until this documentary illustrates how the airplane “is the closest thing we’ve ever had to a time machine” that we’re transfixed.

The film’s early shots of animals pulling wheeled carriages, and of sailing ships, steamships and primitive flying machines, function as more of a tease for the inevitably dazzling aerial sequences to come.

Living in the Age of Airplanes is a gorgeously photographed travelogue intercut with some great aviation footage, including a cool shot that provides a closer look at just what happens when you hear that grinding sound of landing gear retracting into the airplane during takeoff.

We’re whisked off to destinations in 18 countries, including the Grand Canyon, Angkor Wat, the Egyptian pyramids, the Maldives Islands, where seaplanes land in the azure waters, and San Francisco in all its nocturnal splendour. Other highlights include stops at the South Pole, accompanied by commentary on the fragility of its snowscape, plus bird’s-eye views of such attractions as the Eiffel Tower and New York’s Statue of Liberty.

However, this eye candy doesn’t compare with the film’s brilliantly edited highlight underscoring the wonders of the global air-cargo network.

Andrew Waruszewski, whose inventive cinematography is a consistent highlight, outdoes himself with a time-lapse photography sequence that follows the flight of thousands of bouquets of roses picked in Kenya. Given their shelf life of 14 days, time is of the essence as they’re trucked to airports for flights to international destinations such as Toronto, London, Moscow, Beijing and Alaska.

Latin-flavoured swing music accompanies sequences in which the flowers are loaded onto fleets of Fed Ex planes at a dizzying pace, while an onscreen countdown clock charts their progress. In a quieter sequence reflecting Ford’s description of airports as a “portal to the planet,” a variety of items imported from several locales around the world fills an Alaskan living room.

One of the best things about this film is how it sparks the thrill of recognition for viewers, who will be able to relate to images of long waits in airports, or of passengers distracting themselves with electronic devices and in-flight entertainment in the darkened cabin of a jumbo jet cruising at 35,000 feet to a destination far, far away.

While modern technology has evolved to the point the flight seems almost motionless, an unforgettable shot of the earth surrounded by thousands of tiny white criss-crossing dots representing airplanes flying around it reminds us how far air travel has come, and what a marvel it is. It might even inspire you to quit griping about leg room or carry-on-baggage limitations.

mreid@timescolonist.com

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